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Other vampire films pale in comparison

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Mature vampires Tilda Swinton, left, and Tom Hiddleston have bigger problems than the prom in Only Lovers Left Alive.

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Mature vampires Tilda Swinton, left, and Tom Hiddleston have bigger problems than the prom in Only Lovers Left Alive.

Admittedly, I am not exactly the target market for the Twilight movies. But I can tell you where they lost me.

It was right at the start, when new kid Bella moves to an isolated town and discovers a family of vampires attending her high school.

These people are ancient, mind you. But because they look like teens, they have apparently consigned themselves to the hell of eternal secondary education, where they can continue to engage indefinitely in the realm of teen fashion, music and mundane cycles of rivalry and attraction.

Writer-director Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is about authentically cool vampires. It extrapolates more sensibly on the ramifications of being alive for centuries.

Going to high school is definitely not part of the game plan.

As much as possible, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) keeps to himself in a desolate old house in the largely abandoned (and thus carefully chosen) city of Detroit. He composes electronic music. He listens to the classics (with the understanding that "classics" encompass Paganini, Wanda Jackson and Charlie Feathers). He engages in furtive guitar/equipment purchases with a benign, properly intimidated dealer named Ian (Anton Yelchin). And for sustenance, he maintains a relationship of "mutual jeopardy" with a sketchy doctor (Jeffrey Wright) with access to pure, untainted blood.

Adam is solitary but not exactly alone. On the other side of the world, in Tangier, his longtime lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in more tropical isolation with her books, and occasional visits to her good friend and fellow vampire Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) -- yes, that Christopher Marlowe, who confirms that he did indeed write all the works attributed to that fraud William Shakespeare.

Haunted by Adam's feelings of impending doom ("I just feel like all the sand is at the bottom of the hourglass"), Eve is compelled to fly to Detroit via overnight flights to join Adam and luxuriate in a lush state of romantic ennui before the intrusion of Eve's younger, impulsive, self-indulgent sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

Prior to Ava's appearance, Jarmusch paints a picture of vampirism as a more evolved state of being. Adam and Eve -- the movie hints that they are not the first humans but they may be the last -- are cultured and sensitive souls. They can still experience ecstasy (when slugging back shots of blood) and they have been around long enough to be pessimistic about the future of humanity: Adam refers to mortals as "zombies," which should give you a clue.

It makes for an odd but gorgeously atmospheric movie in which Jarmusch breaks new gothic ground, whether on the desolate streetscapes of Detroit of in the labyrinthine passageways of Tangier.

The role of Eve is very much in Tilda Swinton's wheelhouse, exploiting her otherworldly beauty and fierce intelligence. If you only know Hiddleston from his Loki in the Avengers/Thor movies, it will be a pleasure to see him in the mode of a doomed Byronic romantic.

Such is Jarmusch's laid-back approach to the material that he may stop the action altogether to have Adam and Eve enjoy a hypnotic nightclub performance by Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan.

Never heard of her? "She's too good to be famous," Adam explains.

That sentiment applies to Only Lovers Left Alive. It's wonderful. But it may be too good to be a hit.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2014 D6

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About Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

His dad was Winnipeg musician Jimmy King, a one-time columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. One of his brothers is a playwright. Another is a singer-songwriter.

Randall has been content to cover the entertainment beat in one capacity or another since 1990.

His beat is film, and the job has placed him in the same room as diverse talents, from Martin Scorsese to Martin Short, from Julie Christie to Julia Styles. He has met three James Bonds (four if you count Woody Allen), and director Russ Meyer once told him: "I like your style."

He really likes his job.

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